The single most important thing salespeople do that effects sales productivity is the quality – or the lack thereof – of the conversations they have with customers and prospects.

CSO Insights’ 2015 Sales Performance survey showed that only 54.6% of the B2B salespeople achieved their quota last year. Don’t tell that to all the millennials coming into the workforce. They grew up with everyone getting a trophy, just for participating! They’re going to be pretty disappointed to find out that 45% of the salespeople didn’t get a trophy last year. What’s worse is that the number of reps achieving quota fell for the 4th year in a row from 63% in 2012 to 55% in 2015, a drop of 14.5% in 4 years.

Two of the most respected analysts in the sales community, CSO Insights and SiriusDecisions, provide us with these insights concerning the decline in sales productivity:

  • The #1 inhibitor to achieving quota is the inability of the sales rep to articulate value (SiriusDecisions)
  • The leading factor is poor value communications (CSO Insights)
  • 71% of sales reps say they don’t have the knowledge to sell better (CSO Insights)

The sales productivity problem is not “new news” to sales leaders. In 2014, they invested over $56B in training and technology to turn it around ($23.9B on CRM software, $20B on sales training, $12.8B in sales acceleration software). But as mentioned above, this $56B investment did little to stop the decline – sales productivity dropped in the following year (2015) with only 54.6% of salespeople making quota.

Buyers perform a great deal of research online. Because the buyer is so well educated through their research, many surveys state that 60% or more of the buying process has been completed prior to meeting with salespeople. When the salesperson does get involved, they need to be very well prepared to facilitate the completion of the last 40% of the buying process.

It’s that last 40% where the conversation, the dialogue, between the prospect and the salesperson is so critical. The best way to turn off a prospect is to talk about your company, your product, your features, your prices. Remember, the prospect already knows all about your company and product from the website. The prospect wants an entirely different type of conversation. They want a value-add conversation.

Here are some of the conversational elements that salespeople need to understand and be prepared to speak about in order to have a value-add conversation.

Buyer’s Goals, Persona, and Industry – Salespeople need to understand with whom they’re having a conversation. The buyer’s goals and objectives will largely vary by industry and role the buyer plays in the decision process. It’s very difficult for you to be proficient given when you’re calling on multiple personas/roles in multiple industries, often selling different products or solutions each time. As the surveys state, 71% of salespeople claim they don’t have the knowledge to have these conversations and therefore “fall back” on what they know: product, features, price.

Messages – Yes, the prospect has done the online research, but does everyone involved fully understand your key solution messages? Don’t assume this is the case – discuss and verify.

Insights – Insights represent information the salesperson can provide that the customer wasn’t aware of and wouldn’t normally find in their online research. Providing the “story behind the story” concerning a customer’s success using your product is a good example of insights that the well-prepared salesperson could bring to the table.

Questions – All value-add conversations have questions going back and forth between the buyer and the seller. Salespeople need to know the questions they need to ask as well as the questions that will be asked by the buyer. And it’s not enough to simply know which questions will be asked, but you must understand why a particular question is being asked. Truly understanding the meaning behind the question can bring valuable insights to both the buyer and seller as they conduct their value-add conversation.

Competitive Positioning – The buyer has options. The salesperson needs the knowledge and skills to position their solution strengths in contrast to the competitors being evaluated. They need to listen to the buyer’s statements to see if they’ve been “incorrectly” influenced by a competitor and, specifically, which competitor. Salespeople need the proper skills training to ensure they’re effective with their competitive positioning and never directly disparage the competition.

Objections – To support a good value-add conversation and advance the sale, you need to understand the objections that might be asked and the best options for addressing them. Objections will vary based on buyer role, industry, and product, and not surprisingly, objections with vary depending on where the buyer is in their decision cycle. As an example, objections about risk and ways to mitigate risk will come up at the end of the buying process versus the beginning of the process. The ability to handle objections will invariably speed up or slow down the process, as well as win or lose the sale. Objection handling is always a strong characteristic of top salespeople.

Surveys of B2B sales organizations consistently show that out of 5 opportunities you will typically see: 1 win, 1 loss to a direct competitor, and 3 losses to “no decision.” Similarly, CSO Insights sales performance surveys state that 60% of all opportunities are lost to “no decision.” Surveys of executives who decided to make a “no decision” – or, said differently, opted to stay with the “status quo” – state that it was because the salespeople couldn’t explain the value associated with their products or services.

Changing the conversation

People like to buy; they don’t like to be sold to. It’s the same thing with conversations. People like to have valuable, two-way conversations. They don’t want to sit in presentations where all they will hear is about your company, your product, your features. They already know all that and they’re OK with it. That’s why they decided to meet with you in the first place.

I think it’s fair to say that sales leaders will spend upwards of $50B this year on products and services to improve their productivity problems. Whatever you decide to do in your company in 2016, I implore you to ask the question, “What are we doing to support our salespeople in having value-add conversations with their prospects and customers?” Are you investing more this year to generate more leads to give to the salespeople…and then more in technology to speed-dial those leads…hoping, just hoping, that your sales team can convert them to opportunities and then on to closed-won sales? Perhaps your organization would benefit more by equipping the sales team with the knowledge, content and tools to have valuable and effective sales conversations.


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Read more: Why Your B2B Sales Reps Are Not Meeting Quota